Why You Need Strong Legs For Boxing
Your legs are the primary source of power behind your punches. Your footwork is what gets you into position to strike, and it is also what gets you out of harm's way. Building strong legs for boxing is an absolute must.
Here, we will delve deeper into leg strength, and how you can build and improve it.
How Important Is Leg Strength In Boxing?
Leg strength is very important in boxing. Without proper training, you will quickly fade during a workout or a fight. You will not be able to throw your punches with enough speed and power, and you may even injure yourself.
There are 3 main aspects of leg strength:
- Speed and Agility
Before we look into those and how you can work on them, note that we aren't going to be talking about technique (coordination, balance, positioning, stance, etc.); we are only going to discuss your legs' physical strength (conditioning).
Do You Need Strong Legs For Boxing?
Yes, you do need to have strong legs for boxing. Your leg strength will help you move and box better for extended periods of time.
The very first thing you learn as a boxer is proper boxing stance. While there are several popular opinions on what a proper stance is, perfecting your stance gives you a great balance and allows you to be in a good position to strike and defend. Shortly after the stance, and before you’ve started training the different punches, you start learning how to move, i.e. the footwork. You learn how to move in and out of range, go forward, backwards and to the side, while keeping good balance. Boxing Hall-of-Famer Andre Ward says:
"The best coaches teach legs before they teach you hands."
To have great footwork and to be able to execute proper boxing techniques, you need your legs to be strong and well-conditioned.
Do Strong Legs Help In a Fight?
Absolutely--strong legs definitely help any boxer in a fight. There is no “ground game” in boxing--it's all done standing up, so the legs are the primary source of power delivered through your punches (and kicks), and the stronger your legs are, the harder your punches will be, and the longer you will be able to stay in a fight.
Here’s a quick illustration of leg power in boxing. Stand in front of a heavy bag. Sit down on the ground, legs not touching a wall, and throw a few punches at the bag with as much power as you can muster. Pay attention to the strength and power of your punches. Now stand back up, get into your boxing stance and throw the same combination of shots, again with full power. Notice the difference? If you build your leg strength, you will hit even harder.
Does Boxing Build Leg Muscle?
Boxing training does build leg muscle as many boxing exercises and drills rely on strong legs. Building more muscle is rarely the aim of a boxer, though. Usually, as a boxer, you want to train, condition, and keep a certain level of muscle mass without overdoing it.
Although adding extra muscle can give you more explosive power, you pay a certain price in stamina, and most boxers prefer to stay close to their natural weight, especially when competing.
How Do Boxers Get Strong Legs?
Just like with all muscle development, boxers develop strong legs through training exercises and drills. As mentioned above, there are three (3) different types of strength that boxers focus on when working on their legs: endurance, explosiveness, and speed and agility.
How Do You Train Your Legs For Endurance?
Here are the best ways to build endurance.
Running (and roadwork) is the classic way to get this done. How long and at what pace you run is dependent on your current physical conditioning. Typically, endurance is built with slower pace, longer distance running.
Often, boxers run every/every-other day, early in the morning, for between 1 and 9 miles.
While it does build endurance, you should take care not to overdo even slow-pace running. If you run too much, your slow muscle fibers will be overly active and you may end up losing speed in the long-term--not only for your legs, but also for your punches. Additionally, running for too long of a distance can lead to decreased muscle mass.
Another classic exercise that all boxers do is jump rope. Jumping rope, done in the same intervals as boxing rounds (2-3 min on, 1 min of rest) is an excellent way to increase your endurance and maintain your cardio conditioning.
It does take a bit of time to learn how to properly do it, but once you get the hang of it, jumping rope is an excellent tool to have.
Jumping rope will help you strengthen your calf muscles in addition to all of the muscles in your legs. To feel the burn, just try jumping on your toes for 3 minutes in a round!
How Do You Train Your Legs For Explosive Power?
Now that you know how to increase your leg strength through endurance training, it’s time to improve the explosive power of your shots through strengthening your legs. Here are some examples of drills that can help you:
This is one of the best exercises, and it's not even just for your legs. Interval running, often seen in a HIIT type of training programs, builds speed and explosiveness, increases your body's capacity to store energy, and improves the way you transfer the power from your legs all the way to the end of your punches.
The way you typically do it is:
- sprint for a short period of time (up to 1 minute)
- recover at a slower pace
- repeat several times
It is recommended not to exceed 80% of your maximal speed in your sprints and to slowly build up the number of intervals that you do. Ensure that you’re adequately warmed up as well.
Part of most physical sports, the squat is a very useful exercise in boxing, too. Squatting strengthens your quads, hamstrings and glutes. It also improves your core strength and stability. All of this is utilized in the movement required for throwing a punch.
When squatting with weights, boxers often concentrate on the number of repetitions over the amount of weight. You want that extra pop while you throw a punch like an uppercut, but you don't want to bulk up too much and lose on stamina.
Deadlifts are a fundamental exercise done with weights. Your glutes, your hamstrings, your lower back, and your core all get strengthened doing deadlifts.
There are several different types of deadlifts. The trap bar deadlift is probably the most well-suited for boxing. The trap bar is different from the regular Olympic size barbell. It is shaped like a circle/square/octagonal frame with handles and weight on both sides.
The way to execute the exercise is to get inside the frame and:
- Spread your feet a bit wider than shoulder length
- Squat down, keeping your back straight until you comfortably reach the handles
- Get a good grip of the handles
- Rise to an upright position, keeping your back straight, using power from your legs and not your lower (or upper) back
- Slowly bring the trap bar back on the ground, the same way you got up
- Repeat for as many reps as you wish
The trap bar deadlift is likely the safest choice of them all, yet deadlifting is never completely safe. Make sure you have an instructor or spotter present to teach and observe you as you do this exercise for the first time.
Plyometrics are exercises where you exert a maximal amount of force in short spurts. Some examples of plyometric exercises include: jump-squats, box jumps, and power skipping. These are all designed to help you build leg strength.
Isometric holds are an excellent way to build strength in your legs while keeping the risk for injury to a minimum. In this video, FightCamp Trainer Flo Master shows you how to do a few effective isometric hold exercises.
How Do You Train Your Legs For Speed and Agility?
Being fast on your feet and quickly switching direction while moving side-to-side are some the hardest aspects to improve in your footwork. Working on your legs’ speed and agility is essential in boxing.
When you see a punch coming from your opponent, you often want to push off your leading leg to move in the opposite direction. This quick reflex requires you to have strong legs to power the push. When you want to quickly go on the offensive, or go backwards, you need agility in your ankles and knees. Here are a few leg exercises for boxing you could use to train your legs for speed and agility.
Shuttle runs are very popular exercises in sports like basketball and football, but they are also important for boxing. They consist of short sprints in which you quickly switch directions and vary your distance.
Agility Ladder Drills
Agility ladder drills are also great conditioning exercises that build leg strength and speed.
Check this video of FightCamp Trainer Flo Master for some amazing agility ladder drills.
Leg strengthening for boxing is very important. You need it to generate power, to move quickly, and for your stamina. Incorporating drills for all three (3) types of strength will help you in your boxing training.
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The Author: Nikolay Tsenkov is a dad, husband, entrepreneur, and boxing aficionado. He started training late, when he was 26 years old. One of his biggest regrets in life is that he never competed. For several years he has trained alongside national and European champions and professional boxers. He is an avid student of boxing, but enjoys all sorts of martial arts.